Says Pakistan-Kazakhstan have huge potential of bilateral cooperation in diverse sectors
Ambassador Yerzhan Kistafin opens up his heart in an exclusive interview with Daily The Spokesman team.
Interview by : Mohammad Arshad Photo By: Ghulam Farid
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kazakhstan Yerzhan Kistafin is one of the most active diplomats from Central Asian nations in Pakistan. Kazakhstan government appointed him in Islamabad on May 18, 2021 and arrived here on 14 June 2021. Previously he has been performing duties on number of key diplomatic positions including Chair of the «Association of Kazakh diplomats», Director of Human Resources Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States of America and several others. He is very much visible in diplomatic, business and government circles always busy in bringing Pakistan and Kazakhstan closer to each other. He graciously graced a request moved by ‘Daily The Spokesman’ for an exclusive interview. Some of extracts of the interview are given here for interest of our worthy readers.
Q: What about bilateral fraternal ties between Pakistan and Kazakhstan?
Ans: Both countries have so many things common like our history, culture and others. During the visit of our foreign minister, he confirmed the visit of President of Kazakhstan to Pakistan in almost this September. We are planning to develop our trade and economic cooperation as well as cooperation in culture, sports and tourism. In this regard, we are holding negotiations between state agencies and I hope that some documents will be signed during the visit of our President to Pakistan. I think that we must promote cooperation in media sector because at present lack of information about each other is main challenge confronted by both the sides; our people don’t have much information about each other.
In this regard, I held numerous meetings with minister for information and broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry and his Kazakh counterpart in last November. We have agreed to sign Memorandum of understanding (MoU). As a next step we are planning to establish direct contacts between our national TV channels PTV and Kabar Kazakh National TV. We need to exchange TV shows, movies dedicated to culture and others to make our people aware of the potential to develop our cooperation. This is common framework my team and I are focusing at present.
During the recent visit of our foreign minister to OIC Foreign Ministers’ meeting, we had very positive and successful meetings with Pakistani leaders and excellent negotiations with President, Prime Minister, Chairman Senate and foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other high profile dignitaries. We discussed our bilateral agenda and we have very good political view from both sides. Now we need to work hard and join our heads for development of our bilateral cooperation. I must say that there is huge potential. When we talk about bilateral trade, I must say that we have positive dynamics. For example, in 2020 tune of our bilateral trade was about $ 45 million dollars and this year, in 2021 we tune of our bilateral trade is more than double and as per our statistics it is over $95 million and as per Pakistani government it is over $ 200 million. But still we are far below the existing potential.
Q: When do you expect your President’s visit Pakistan?
Ans: It is not confirmed yet but it is expected that our president will visit Pakistan in 2nd half of this year and my suggestion will be to visit in September.
Q: Would you like to pinpoint the sectors in which both the countries can enhance bilateral cooperation?
Ans: As far as our bilateral trade is concerned; I have seven areas of priority in my mind; textile, pharmaceutical, agriculture, surgical instruments, IT, construction and sports goods sectors. In this these sectors we can trade as well as establish joint ventures (JVs). We should not consider Kazakhstan and Pakistan are final point of destination as Kazakhstan is a landlocked country while Pakistan has access to warm waters so Pakistan can offer the shortest route to Kazakhstan to the world.
We can significantly increase in exports through transit trade and Kazakh manufacturers can access to the African and South Asian markets via Pakistan. In return Kazakhstan can offer Pakistan an access to the Central Asian markets, Eurasian Economic Union and even to Europe. Some two years back Kazakhstan finalized railroad connecting Europe with China which has reduced the delivery time from 45 to 50 days via sea to two weeks. So I think we should utilize this potential which we have and w should enhance our trade volume.
Q: When can we expect direct flights between Kazakhstan and Pakistan?
Ans: About two week ago we organized an online session between civil association authorities of Pakistan and Kazakhstan and we received final approval to operate direct flights. A Kazakh private SCAT Airline is willing to operate direct flights between both the countries. At first we are planning direct flights between business hubs of both the countries Karachi-Almay and then gradually we will approach to other cities by increasing number of flights.
Q: Which items can Pakistani export to Kazakhstan?
Ans: Our President said that we need to develop our agriculture sector, pharmaceutical industry and Pakistan has great experience and potential in these sectors. So at least I have three things in my mind that we can export medicines, agricultural products, surgical instruments and sport goods to Kazakhstan from Pakistan. By the way, we have some companies which are delivering these products in Kazakhstan but we don’t have a systematic approach in this regard. So my submission to the governments is to create friendly environment for business to business contacts so I hope that during the visit of our president to Pakistan, we will sign a transit trade agreement and it is very important for both the sides.
Q: Which items can Pakistanis import from Kazakhstan?
Ans: Kazakhstan can export many items starting from energy resources to Pakistan as Kazakhstan is rich in oil, gas, uranium etc. Kazakhstan is among top ten exporters of wheat so we can export wheat to Pakistan. But more important issue is the establishment of direct linkage between business communities, scholars, academics, researchers of both the countries to overcome the issue of lack information about each other. In this regard, in November last, we organized a Business Forum in Kazakhstan and about 35 people from Pakistan attended the forum and most of them were visiting Kazakhstan for the first time. In February, I invited a 30- member business delegation from Kazakhstan to visit Pakistan and delegation visited Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Now those people have a very clear picture about Pakistan’s business environment.
Q: How can we create awareness in Pakistani youth about Kazakh universities?
Ans: Last year, we had 452 students from Pakistan, but we have received over 800 admission applications from Pakistani students in last three months. It means interest of Pakistani students in Kazakh universities is growing. Main problem is that young Pakistanis don’t know about the opportunities offered by Kazakhstan. Today morning I met with General Coordinator COMSTECH Professor Dr M Iqbal Choudhary and we agreed to open admissions for Pakistani university students in Kazakhstan universities. Main issue is to establish direct links between universities of both the countries to create awareness among the young people about the opportunities offered by both sides. Have to keep up the process of disseminating the information to the youth. Last year, Almaty was declared the best city of students in Asia. We have very good attitude towards our young friends from Pakistan in Kazakh Universities.
Q: Do you see China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) may bridge the gap between both the countries?
Ans: Off course, like Pakistan, Kazakhstan is also very important part of Chinese one belt one road initiative. Similarly, CPEC is also an important part of OBOR so I think that CPEC can play key role in boosting bilateral trade in terms of developing potential of transit trade. A few days back trilateral talks on linking central Asia to Pakistan through railroad were held in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is willing to join Mazar e Sharif- Kabul-Peshawar rail link project and we are part of this project. This project can be a game changer. Some two years back Pakistani authorities contacted Kazakh side to export wheat to Pakistan but due to lack of infrastructure we were not able to export Kazakh wheat to Pakistan. Due to high transportation expenditures Pakistan refused to buy our wheat, but if there is a rail link we can easily export our wheat, coal and other products to Pakistan.
Another issue is that both sides Pakistan and Kazakhstan have underestimated the existing potential of cooperation; Kazakhstan and Pakistan both looked towards Europe and other countries for cooperation instead of towards each other. Now I think that both sides are needed to change their approaches and last year Prime Minister Imran Khan wrote two articles on this issue and were published in New York Times and Washington Post. While discussing future of Pakistan, Prime Minister Khan highlighted the significance of Central Asia in Pakistan’s future foreign policy. Then his government devised the strategy titled Vision Central Asia. Moreover, National Security Policy also emphasizes on the significance of Afghanistan in terms of having good relations with Central Asia. Pakistan is also very important in foreign policy of Kazakhstan so we are required to strengthen our ties on government to government, business to business and people to people.
Q: Do you think that Kazakh Universities are required to organize education expos to attract Pakistani students to get admissions there?
Ans: I talked to Minister of Education of Kazakhstan and apprised him about the ratio of young people in Pakistan. General Coordinator COMSTECH Iqbal Chaudhry will invite Kazakh Education minister to Pakistan. I want to highlight that there is no security issue in Kazakhstan because we have very high rate of literacy. Pakistani students often prefer Kyrgyzstan’s universities because there are direct flights between both the countries. In 1990s we had direct flights between Pakistan and Kazakhstan but later they were suspended. It may take two and half hours from Pakistan to Kazakhstan if we have direct flights.
Q: How can Pakistan and Kazakhstan get closer to each other even if there is no peace in Afghanistan? Is there any other land route option?
Ans: I think situation is stabilizing gradually. We have three land route options; Karakoram Highway-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan-China and Pakistan. According to experts it is the shortest route and goods can reach from Kazakhstan to Pakistan in few days. Second option is via Afghanistan and third option is via Caspian Sea to Iran and then to Pakistan. So we need to diversity our routes. Last year Pakistan and Uzbekistan inked two important agreements; transit trade and preferential trade agreements. Kazakhstan is next to Uzbekistan so we can ink same agreements. I have discussed these issues with Abdul Razak Dawood, Food Minister Fakhar Imam and other members of cabinet and now we are moving forward to have a legal framework on developing bilateral trade. We need to exchange of cultural delegations and artists.
Q: How would you like to comment on bilateral cooperation in defense sector?
Ans: Defense cooperation between Pakistan and Kazakhstan is the most developed sector as our ministries of defense hold regular dialogue basis. We also hold joint military drills and joint trainings. We are also planning to sign MoU between defense universities. We have established military technical cooperation commission and we are planning to organize meeting between defense productions industries of both the countries to discuss the prospects of mutually beneficial areas of cooperation.
We are organizing single country exhibition for Pakistan from May 18-23, 2022; it is going to be a big event. Initially we were planning to invite only 60 people from Pakistan we have received over 200 applications from Pakistani businessmen. So interest of Pakistanis is growing in Kazakhstan and we see that 150 people will participate in this event. By the end of May, we are planning to organize an international conference dedicated to the legacy of Allama Muhammad Iqbal (the poet of the East) for the first time in Kazakhstan in collaboration with Turkic Academy and COMSTECH. It will be a big international conference as we are planning to invite people from Turkey, Azerbaijan. In June, we expect Kazakh business delegation in Pakistan as we are planning road shows to promote Kazakh products in Pakistani markets. We have also agreed to organize a visit of Pakistani universities delegation to Kazakh Universities in July.
Q: How can both sides overcome the lingual barrier?
Ans: Today 90% of our young generation is fluent English speaking. Moreover we are planning to publish Kazakh-Urdu dictionary with NUML because there are large number of common words in Urdu and Kazakh languages. Kazakh language is Turkic origin and Urdu is also from Turkish language.
Q: Can Pakistani students get part time jobs while studying in Kazakhstan?
Ans: Yes, yes, such issues need to be further discussed. It is necessary for experts from both sides to discuss further steps in this regard.
Q: How would you like to comment on investment environment in Kazakhstan?
Ans: Kazakhstan is the most attractive investment destination in the region. We were ranked 25th in the world by the World Bank on ease of doing business index in 2020 and during last three decades of independence we have attracted over $180 billion foreign investment which is more than 70% of total foreign direct investment in Central Asia. Now we are holding regular dialogue with Pakistani concerned quarters and business people willing to establish JVs in Kazakhstan. Pakistani businessmen can disburse their products of JVs in whole Central Asia, Russia and even to Europe.
Q: What will be your message to youth and people from both the countries?
Ans: My message is that our nations and people have been cooperating with each other for centuries, but somehow we lost our connections, so it is time to revive our fraternal ties and start a brand new chapter in the modern history of relations between Pakistan and Kazakhstan. We have a lot of things common so we need to revive our natural cultural and historical ties for the benefit of not only Pakistan and Kazakhstan but for the whole region. By joining our efforts we can make our region compatible for the international market and it is our final goal. We consider Pakistan as a great regional power and Kazakhstan is leader of Central Asian region so if we develop joint projects it may beneficial for other countries of the region too. We will have to cross at least three countries to have access to each other Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. At this time we can help these countries to develop their infrastructure; so we need to develop our regional infrastructure because it is difficult to boost bilateral trade without having infrastructure. Secondly we need to establish single or common standards to make lives of our people easier.